DFG Funds Three Heidelberg Collaborative Research Centres and a CRC/Transregio
16 May 2014
Heidelberg University succeeded in gaining support from the German Research Foundation (DFG) in the latest approval round, receiving funding for four research networks. Funding will allow the establishment of two new collaborative research centres in medicine, “Reactive Metabolites as a Cause of Diabetic Complications” (CRC 1118) and “Integrative Analysis of Pathogen Replication and Spread” (CRC 1129). The “Maintenance and Differentiation of Stem Cells in Development and Disease” Collaborative Research Centre (CRC 873) will continue its work for a second funding period. Funding was also renewed for “The Dark Universe” Transregional Collaborative Research Centre (CRC/TRR 33), a group uniting researchers from the universities in Heidelberg, Bonn and Munich. With approval for a third funding period, SFB/TRR 33 has ensured its future for the maximum 12-year funding term. Total DFG funding for all four consortia is over 40 million euros. Scientists from Heidelberg University are also participating in two other transregional CRCs, one awarded continued funding and the other newly funded.
CRC 1118 is focusing on the metabolic disorder diabetes and is the first research association in Europe to study the disease's late complications. Until now, treatment targeted the control of blood sugar levels. Study results indicate, however, that this is not enough to prevent long-term complications associated with the disease, such as organ and nerve damage. Experts point to other studies that reveal that certain metabolic by-products, called reactive metabolites, cause this damage. The disrupted metabolic processes in those suffering from the disease increasingly generate substances toxic to the cells of the body. CRC 1118, under the coordination of the Medical Faculty Heidelberg, is seeking a precise understanding of the origin of reactive metabolites and how they function. On that basis, the researchers hope to develop treatments that reduce reactive metabolites in diabetes and prevent its complications. The group’s spokesperson is Prof. Dr. Peter Nawroth, Medical Director of the Department of Internal Medicine I and Clinical Chemistry of Heidelberg University Hospital. Nearly 9.3 million euros will be made available to fund the work of the “Reactive Metabolites as a Cause of Diabetic Complications” Collaborative Research Centre, whose participants include the Medical Faculty Heidelberg, the Medical Faculty Mannheim and the German Cancer Research Center.
How do viruses and parasites spread in the body? How does the body succeed in fighting off these pathogenic organisms? The goal of the researchers of CRC 1129 is to study, from an integrated perspective, the manifold interactions between pathogens and host organisms that result in an infection’s propagation and spread or its inhibition. The work not only unites different disciplines like infection biology, biophysics and chemical biology. The group also wants to investigate the different levels of complexity and orders of magnitude relevant to the infection process. Infection will be studied using tissues to mimic, to the extent possible, the conditions in the living host, but also at the individual cell and molecular level, aiming at precisely characterising single interactions. In the long run, these observations will be used to develop new methods of disease control. With funding of approx. 10.8 million euros, the work of the “Integrative Analysis of Pathogen Replication and Spread” Collaborative Research Centre is being coordinated by the Medical Faculty Heidelberg. Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Kräusslich, Executive Director of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Heidelberg University Hospital, serves as the spokesperson. In addition to researchers from the department, scientists from Heidelberg University’s physics, chemistry and biosciences departments as well as from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory are involved.
CRC 873 is investigating the basic mechanisms that govern stem cell self-renewal and differentiation across diverse organisms. A particular focus lies on “adult” stem cells, which hold great promise for basic and applied research. Even though they were discovered over 50 years aog, their regulatory mechanisms have so far remained elusive. Comparative studies are being conducted using plant and animal model systems relevant to evolutionary biology. The research is aimed at decoding the basic principles of stem cell control in simple model systems and to applying them to complex life forms, including humans. To this end the “Maintenance and Differentiation of Stem Cells in Development and Disease” Collaborative Research Centre, coordinated at the Centre for Organismal Studies (COS) of Heidelberg University, uniquely brings together expertise in basic biology, physics and mathematics with clinical research in medicine. This paves the way for an interdisciplinary approach toward uncovering the key elements of stem cell biology, thereby contributing to the development of future cures. Participating organisations include a number of institutes and centres at Heidelberg University, the Medical Faculties Heidelberg and Mannheim and the German Cancer Research Center. Prof. Dr. Jan Lohmann, head of the Stem Cell Biology Department at COS, is the spokesperson of the CRC, whose funding totals approx. 10 million euros.
Researchers in SFB/TRR 33 are exploring the existence of dark matter and dark energy. The two comprise 95 per cent of the energy density of our universe, yet the physical nature and composition of this dark universe remain largely unknown. While dark matter gives rise to the structures of the cosmos – galaxies, galaxy clusters and empty regions – uniformly distributed dark energy has been accelerating the expansion of the universe for the last five billion years. Research in the areas of cosmology, astrophysics and particle physics is focussed on the composition of our universe. In addition to theory development, scientists are working on new measurements that can be used, for example, to determine the percentage of dark energy as a function of time. They are also exploring the question of whether dark matter and dark energy have the same origin. For the third funding period, “The Dark Universe” Transregional Collaborative Research Centre was awarded approx. 11 million euros. Their work is being coordinated by the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy at Heidelberg University, other participating institutions include the University of Bonn, Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich (LMU), the Max Planck Institutes for Astrophysics and Extraterrestrial Physics and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). Prof. Dr. Christof Wetterich of Heidelberg University’s Institute for Theoretical Physics is the spokesperson.
Heidelberg University scientists are also participating in the “Materials for Tissue Regeneration in Systemically Diseased Bones” CRC/TRR (host university: Giessen University), whose funding was renewed, and the newly established “TRiPs to Homeostasis: Maintenance of Body Homeostasis by Transient Receptor Potential Channel Modules” CRC/TRR (host university: LMU).